I feel vulnerable posting this, but I know it helps when we share, so here goes…something I wrote whilst reflecting on my past.
TW Sexual harrassment, assault, rape
My daughter is three, and I have been thinking a lot lately about what life will be like for her. And I have been feeling angry.
As a young girl I remember learning very quickly that if I was quiet, and sweet, and smiled, people would like me. Especially boys and men.
I remember feeling special when people told me I looked pretty. Especially boys. Like that was the most important thing in the world.
I remember if I got openly angry, annoyed, pissed off; I was laughed at or patronised. Told I was ‘cute’. Or ‘too pretty to be angry’. Told I should ‘give us a smile’. So I didn’t express my anger in a healthy way. In fact, I rarely expressed it at all. It was much safer to be compliant. I found it hard to develop healthy boundaries.
Looking back, it is clear that from a very early age I learned to assign value on myself based on my appeal to boys and men. It sounds so wrong, but it is entirely true. Society taught me this, it became ingrained, deeply conditioned.
As I grew older I remember wanting to impress boys. I so desperately wanted to be liked by them. I believed that my life would be better – that I would be safer – if they liked me. But I soon learned that respect was not always a given.
I remember when I was 15, a boy in my year at school developed a crush on me. I remember that everyone knew about it. And I pretended that I didn’t care when he stared at me, or made vile sounds as I walked past. I wonder if anyone ever asked him if he considered how that made me feel. Part of me felt so uncomfortable, but there was this other part of me, that felt validated, felt important. It was messed up and confusing. I remember a male teacher bringing it up in front of everyone in class. That this boy was ‘into me’ . I remember this teacher jeering and laughing, and everyone staring at me. I remember my face burning with embarrasment. I remember the shame I felt. And the anger at this teacher – a man – who felt that it was ok to humiliate me.
I remember harassment and abuse.
I remember walking in the park with a friend, a man in a big coat walking towards us. As he approached, we saw he was naked, touching himself, smiling as he passed.
I remember being touched and groped without my consent. At pubs, clubs, on public transport. It was so common, it was just accepted. Normal. Sometimes even a compliment.
I remember friends and family sharing stories of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape.
I remember feeling scared, afraid, uneasy.
I remember walking down the street and worrying every time I saw a group of boys or men up ahead. I remember wondering if I should cross the street to avoid them, or if it would be safe enough to keep on my path. I remember my heart would race, and I would feel my stomach churn with anxiety. I remember that I would keep my head down…and I would wait for the wolf whistles, or the leering, or the crude comments, or taunts to come…and they always did. I remember never knowing what to say, or how to stand up for myself. I remember wondering if I would be fast enough to run away, or strong enough to fight back if I needed to. I remember never feeling safe when I was alone.
I remember nervously laughing along at jokes that degrade women, too afraid to speak out. Sitting uncomfortably, hoping for someone to change the subject.
I remember too many times, in past relationships, being pressured in to having sex. My reasons for not wanting to were never enough. I remember having to repeat NO many times over. I remember being given the cold shoulder when I did. I remember how shitty it felt to have to keep fending off ‘advances’ from someone who I was in a committed relationship with. I remember feeling guilty, and relinquishing, going to a different place until it was over.
Looking back, there was so much disrespect from men and boys in my life. So much entitlement. I feel sick to my stomach when I think about it.
What I have experienced is so common. In fact, I have ‘gotten off easy’. How is this ok? It is not ok.
It is insidious and sneaky, and pervasive.
I want better for my daughter, and my sons. Don’t we all deserve better? I want this to change.
I want to be braver. I want to call out shitty behaviour. I want to call it out without fear of abuse.
But I want men to call it out more.
I want to feel safe!
And I want to care less about what they think of me. I want to shed all the shitty conditioning that told me I need men’s approval to be worthy.
I am so fucking worthy.
I deserve respect. No matter what I look like, or what mood I am in, or what clothes I am wearing. We all do! Men are not entitled to sex, or anything else. Why does this even need to be said? It is so fucked up that this needs to be said.
My sons deserve strong, respectful male role models. And my daughter deserves to live her life without having to navigate all this shit!!